Q&A with Kate DiCamillo

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of this middle grade novel.

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of this middle grade novel.

Because of Winn-Dixie was one of the most beloved chapter books I read my fifth graders. Year after year, they treasured the story of India Opal Buloni whose chance encounter with a dog in a grocery store seemed to change her life. For any child or teacher who has been a fan of Because of Winn-Dixie or any of Kate DiCamillo‘s other works, then you’ll be happy to know that another outstanding novel of hers goes on sale next week. Here’s the publisher’s summary:

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

I know many teachers use DiCamillo’s books as touchstone texts in reading workshop. This award-winning writer‘s books are ripe for use as mentor texts inside of writing workshop too. Therefore, I did a Q&A with Kate DiCamillo in an effort to provide you with a little more information about the writing of Raymie Nightingale since I have a feeling many teachers are going to utilize this book with their students in the months to come.


KateD-7-EditQ: I understand you’ve returned to your roots, setting Raymie Nightingale in Central Florida, where you grew up. While Raymie’s story was inspired by your own life, it is not your story. Would you talk a bit about how you pulled elements from your childhood to create Raymie Nightingale?

A: It’s a strange, subconscious process.  I didn’t set out to write about my childhood.  I set out to write a funny story about entering a Little Miss pageant and not winning.  And then all these things that I didn’t anticipate starting showing up.  There are little bits and pieces of the young me all over this book–missing my father, wanting to bring him back, never learning how to twirl a baton, the beauty of swans, the terror of the animal pound, the lure of candy corn, the balm of friendship.  But none of those things got in the book intentionally.  They kind of slipped in behind my back.

Q: The characterization in Raymie Nightingale — main and secondary – is so strong. Tell us more about how you develop your characters? To that end, what kinds of things do you do to create your characters that teachers can teach their students?

A: I never think of it as creating characters.  I think of it is as *discovering* characters.  I always feel like my job is to stand back and let the character lead.  I follow them.

Q: Many kids struggle with creating authentic characters. What are some suggestions you have to help kids discover their characters so they can write believable ones who jump off of the page?

A: For me, one of the best ways to discover characters is to have them talk to each other.  You can find out so much about people by listening to them.  Have your students go out into the world and eavesdrop.  Have them write down random lines of dialog that they hear in the grocery store, or a coffee shop or on the bus.  Listen, listen.

Q: Would you tell us more about your planning, writing, and revision processes? (To that end, I’ve heard you write two pages a day, five days a week. What are some of your writing secrets to stay disciplined?)

A: It’s true!  Two pages a day–most days.  I don’t do a lot of planning (see above, I’m just kind of feeling my way down a long dark hallway), but I do a ton of revision.  Each novel is about eight or nine drafts.  I write a complete draft, put it aside and then start again a few weeks later, at the beginning.

As to staying disciplined–I spent so long wanting to be a writer–and not writing–that I found it is easier to just do the work.  I’ve also found that I’m happier when I’m writing.

Q: What do you think makes a good story?

A: Love (of this world and the people and the beings in it (i.e. E.B. White), humor, hope.

Q: What advice do you have for kids who want to be authors when they grow up?

A: Read, read, read, read, read. Write. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.  Pay attention.  Love.

Q: Many teachers who read this blog have thought about writing for children (PB, MG or YA novels). What advice do you have for people who are trying to break into the publishing industry?

A: Write your heart.  Don’t try to write to the market.  Write the story that you need to write.  And read as much as you can.  Read, read, read.  Write, write, write.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Oh, next up is a story about Baby Lincoln and how she goes on a necessary journey.  I’m very excited for Baby to get her own story.


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Raymie Nightingale.  Many thanks to Candlewick Press for donating a copy for one reader of this post.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Raymie Nightingale, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, April 15th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday, April 17th. 
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Candlewick Press will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. A random number generator selected Kristi Lonheim’s commenter number. Here’s what she wrote:

I think the idea of writing a little bit, every day, makes the overwhelming task seem more manageable. Thanks for that gem.